How Big Are Those “Little Doctrines”? – Part IV – The Role of Doctrine

Is it possible to fall into loving doctrine more than God?

When I started this series on “little doctrines”, the plan was to round it out with an article on the “Roles of Men and Women”.  Then I realized I’ve really already written that article (Check out \”When Did God Lose His Rights?\” ).  Instead, I think it’s worthwhile this week to discuss the importance of doctrine in general.  And all of what I’m about to say might not be exactly what you’d expect.

Is sound Christian doctrine important?  Absolutely.  A brief survey of church history will clearly show that when true doctrine starts to be lost (even in seemingly “little doctrines”), the gospel itself (the good news of salvation through Jesus) can become clouded or even lost altogether quite quickly as well.

In Martin Luther’s day, something called “indulgences” were being sold by the church – pieces of paper that indicated that an individual, with his own hard-earned money, had purchased forgiveness for his sins from God!  Talk about the complete loss of the gospel.  And yet, was the Roman Catholic Church (THE church at the time, mind you) aware of what a ridiculously unscriptural doctrine this was?  Not until a German monk had the God-given guts to stand up and say, “This is insane.”  Finally, in 1567, Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving money, acknowledging error on the church’s part Catholic Encylopedia article on \”Indulgences\”.

A compounding of false doctrine had led to an absolute perversion of the basic message of the Bible.  Today, questions about how someone comes to God, the natural state of mankind when they enter this world, the authenticity of Scripture, and the role of good works in someone’s salvation plan are all confused issues in mainstream Christianity.  And when false doctrines are pursued to their logical conclusions, well, as seen, it can be devastating to faith.

Again….is sound doctrine important?  Ask the Apostle Paul.  When writing to his young ministry companion Timothy, he said, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) The two things that Paul says Timothy should be very careful about are 1) sound doctrine, and 2) his Christian witness in his life.  So make no mistake – doctrine is MASSIVELY important to Christian faith.

Having just said that, however, I want to make one disclaimer.  Our sinful nature is so twisted, that it can even take doctrine (as taught in the Bible) and turn it into a god in itself.  Is that really possible?  I believe so.  It comes whenever the Bible student simply desires “being right” more than a genuine concern for souls.

I don’t agree with the non-denominational movement of the past 50 years, which says that some doctrine (like the sacraments, or conversion, or the study of end times, or the roles of men and women) do not require agreement upon.  But, I do understand why the non-denominational movement grew.  It was, in part, a product of society’s postmodern spirit.  It was also, in part, a reaction to Christian leaders at times throughout history debating doctrine (and occasionally peripheral ones at that) in an unloving fashion.  Making a case for a doctrinal point DOES NOT give anyone the right to be a mean person.  And hiding behind pious sounding notions of “respect for the truth of God’s Word” only makes it worse and more hypocritical.  Using “respect for God” as an excuse to be unloving and unChrist-like fits the description of the religious elite of Jesus’ day to a T.

Now, of course, someone can respond to that argument by saying that the Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law were not even true believers since their doctrine was so far off, so it’s not a fair comparison.  True enough.  But how did they get to the point of being non-believers?    They got so wrapped up in manufacturing their own righteousness through their belief system.  The spirit of the individual who is so obsessed with sound doctrine that he willfully is unloving (ugly in words, thoughts, & actions – i.e. “hateful”) toward another person (a confused child of God no less), is someone who I would suggest is perhaps trying to make himself close to God by means of his perfect understanding of doctrine – a self-righteousness in itself.  I, nor any other human alive, is right with God because of my perfect systemization or explanation of the teachings of Christian faith.  I am right with God on the basis of the saving work of the object of my faith – Jesus Christ.  If I lose sight of that for a moment, I might just lose sight of something as core to Christianity as loving my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Seeking to preserve sound doctrine is great.  But fighting for truth to the extent that you’ve stopped loving others hurts the cause more than it helps.  I fear for some who fight for the truth and for “sound theology” who do not resemble Christ in their behavior at all.  And I’m reminded of a famous quote by Thomas Aquinas, who once said, “Lord, in my zeal for love of truth, let me not forget the truth about love.”

I’ll be the first to admit that doctrinal debates are interesting and engaging.  They can keep you mentally sharp in logical thought and help you solidify concepts surrounding some of the big questions that life poses.  As mentioned earlier, I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face as to the importance of sound doctrine with somebody who suggests otherwise.  However, it’s easy to lose sight of why we want sound doctrine in the first place – to clearly communicate the love of God to us, because we clearly love those whom we’re communicating it to.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again because I believe it with all my heart: if you are not prepared to love someone like Christ, you have no business teaching someone about Christ.

The hardest thing about Bible study is not understanding complex doctrines.  It’s certainly not always an easy thing for limited and sinful mankind, but it’s not MOST difficult.  The hardest thing about Bible study is implementing in my life the doctrines that I DO understand.  Living with a humility that says that my salvation is based on Jesus’ righteousness, not mine, is not always easy.  Making God a top priority in my life is not always easy.  Loving other people as Christ loved me is not always easy.  So while I fight tooth and nail to understand precisely what God is proclaiming to me through his Word, I don’t want to fight with any less effort to live (and love) according to that truth.  I don’t want to fall in love with the concept of doctrine, but with the Lord who proclaims truth to me, and who encourages me to lovingly share that truth with others.

Sound doctrine is a beautiful and important thing.  If you think I’m suggesting otherwise here, you probably haven’t read what I’ve been writing for the past month :).  But emphasizing the concept of doctrine ahead of the one who gave the doctrine can turn a Christian into more of a vicious inquisitor than a Christ-like, Christ-focused gospel messenger.  May God help us love truth, and love others in the way that we share it with them.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)

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How Big are those “Little” Doctrines? – Part III – Predestination

Predestination: God carries out in the fullness of time the plan he devised before time began.

“Why are some people saved, but others are not?” – this is perhaps the most debated question in the history of Christianity.  The way that you answer this question, as much as any other doctrine, contributes to why you end up in the particular Christian denomination (or non-denomination) that you do.  So it’s hard to underestimate its importance.

Let’s briefly trace the different opinions of the Christian world today based on their theological histories:

John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French theologian during the heart of the French movement of the European Renaissance.  An undeniably brilliant law student, Calvin eventually decided to dedicate his life to the reformation of the church.  Genius humanist that he was, Calvin believed that man’s intellect was the highest gift that God had given to the human race (outside of the soul itself).  This belief had a profound impact on the way that Calvin approached interpretation of the Bible.

If man’s capacity for reason was truly his greatest attribute, to Calvin, it only made sense that the doctrines of Scripture be brought to logical conclusions, even if those doctrines go beyond what Scripture says.  This, in essence, is how Calvin arrived at his famous doctrine of “Double Predestination”.  Calvin understood that the Bible clearly taught that God knew people before “time” began and foreordained people to heaven (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Thess 1:4-5; 2 Thess 2:13-14, Romans 9:10-18; Acts 2:23; 13:48; 2 Peter 1:10; Romans 8:29-30; and a host of other passages that reference the “elect”). Calvin, rational mind that he had, operating with the assumption that God, generally speaking, would not plant into Scripture a teaching that defied human logic, brought this doctrine to a humanly reasonable conclusion – Double Predestination.

Double Predestination suggests that if God predestined some people for heaven, then he also must have predestined the rest for hell.  According to human deduction, this is logical.  The problem is, it’s not biblical.

To my knowledge, there is one passage that makes double predestination sound like a possibility.  It’s 1 Peter 2:8 “They (i.e. unbelievers) stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.” This is partially just a translation issue.  Unbelievers are “destined” to stumble on Christ not for who God created them to be but for their rejection of Jesus as the path to salvation.  So, it’s not that God foreordained that some people would reject Christ, it’s that God foreordained that anyone who had unbelief in his heart would stumble upon Christ.  Get it?  Combine that understanding with the fact that the basic message of the rest of Scripture seems to follow the thoughts of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The conclusion you draw is that God definitely is not predetermining for a portion of mankind to suffer eternal punishment in hell.  Think about it…..what kind of unloving ogre would that turn God into?  And yet, much of the Christian world today still buys into this concept of Double Predestination.

Influential Dutch reformer, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), was not buying it though.  Personally, although I haven’t run across anything that says this in his writings, I believe part of Arminius’ dislike for Calvin’s Double Predestination was due to the fact that he had to bury 2 of his own young children.  The notion that God would arbitrarily throw some into heaven and some into hell without even the opportunity to hear the gospel proclaimed was so offensive to him, that Arminius felt the destiny of souls couldn’t be foreordained.  That just didn’t jive with the merciful God he knew.  God would never predetermine someone’s existence in hell.  And about that, Arminius was correct.  The problem that he ran into was that he used human rationale to bring the doctrine to a logical conclusion – Decision Theology.

Decision Theology suggests that if man goes to hell because he outright rejects God, he must also go to heaven, in part, because he chose to accept God.  According to human deduction, this is logical.  The problem is, it’s not biblical.  To almost completely circumvent the concept of predestination in the New Testament is to toss out a lot of literature proposed by a variety of New Testament writers.  In other words, it’s not just one writer’s unique way of referring to God’s love or knowledge.  This “election/predestination” thing was clearly on the minds and hearts of inspired New Testament authors.  Decision theology also circumvents the biblical teaching of Original Sin (Psalm 51:5; John 3:6), which indicates that I don’t come into this planet with a spiritually blank slate, but rather, I come in with the deck stacked against me spiritually.  I am “dead in my transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-4) and unable to make any motion on my own towards God.

Nonetheless, today, Americans who love the ideals of John Locke (the English philosopher, not the mysterious bald guy from LOST), who have lived through the civil rights movement of the ’60s, and who embrace the “I can do anything I put my mind to and create my own destiny” are naturally attracted to Arminian theology.  I don’t think there’s anything coincidental about the growth of Evangelical churches in America over the past 30 years and the fact that they have largely practiced an Arminian theology. Everyone naturally likes to take some credit for something good in their lives, which Arminianism allows for.  The problem is, Scripturally speaking, God alone deserves ALL the credit for my salvation.

Alright, so how are we supposed to resolve this whole debate, one which goes not only back to Calvin & Arminius in the 16th & 17th centuries, but all the way back to Augustine & Pelagius in the 4th & 5th centuries?    If God predetermining some for heaven and some for hell isn’t the answer and if man determining his own fate for heaven or hell isn’t the answer, well, what options are left?  A very good (i.e. biblical) one.

If someone goes to heaven, God gets all credit for it.  God knew that individual before the world was even created (Remember, God exists outside of the laws of our universe.  He is not bound to our concepts of time and space.  If he wants to see everything at once, he’s free to do so, regardless of our linear notions of time.).  Knowing those individuals whom he wanted with him forever in paradise, God also knew that those individuals would be a sinners.  Consequently, God sent his Son Jesus into the world to pay for their errors, so that these foreknown individuals could have the full righteousness of children of God.  Jesus freely died for the full forgiveness of the sins for the entire world.  This truth – salvation for us being to God’s credit – is perhaps best expressed in the most Lutheran passage I know: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

On the flip side, if someone, for their own reasons, chooses to reject Jesus’ payment for their sins, they are free to make that call – the rejection of Christ.  The end result, however, is eternity in hell. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.(Mark 16:16). And if someone indeed goes to hell, that individual gets all the credit for it.

So…….to recap……if someone goes to heaven, God gets the credit and if someone goes to hell, that person gets the credit.  This doctrine doesn’t come to a “logical” conclusion that is satisfying to the human rationale, but it is biblically accurate.  And if the Bible really is inspired by God, I naturally have to assume God’s logic trumps anything mankind’s logic can produce.

The obvious question for all of this Predestination talk then becomes, “If we can’t fully intellectually grasp the doctrine of Predestination, is it even of any practical value to us?” The answer: Sure.  You just need to make sure you’re using it the right way.  If I pound in a nail with the handle of a perfectly good screwdriver, I may eventually get the job done, but I may be ruining the handle of a perfectly good screwdriver in the process.  It’s the wrong tool for the situation.  Point being, the teaching of Predestination certainly does have something to say about salvation.  However, if you really want to explain why some people go to heaven and some people go to hell, the most fundamental doctrine of Scripture – Jesus’ forgiveness for our sins on the cross and faith that trusts that truth – this is what best communicates the reality of heaven or hell for the individual to us.  Using the doctrine of Predestination to explain that point leads people down an avenue that man cannot know – the mind of God.

Explaining why God went about foreordaining only some is like trying to explain what exists 10 feet beyond the edge of the universe – I know there must be a good answer, but I, on the basis of who and what I am, simply cannot have the capabilities of producing that correct answer.  Many have tried to explain God’s process of predetermining souls.  For instance, some have proposed the theory that God looked into the future and saw who would believe in him and then he elected those individuals for salvation.  That goes beyond what we can confidently say in Scripture though and doesn’t really seem to account for our inherent inability to come to God on our own.

Not surprisingly, the doctrine of Predestination/Election is best used the way we see New Testament writers most often using it – addressing and comforting the children of God by reminding them of God’s grace to them and the depth of his knowledge for them – that he made them his own before they even existed.  “Predestination” means that God carried out in the fullness of time for his people the plan that he devised for them before time began.  It means that God knows his children better (and for longer) than anyone.  It means that God loves his children more than anything.  And finally, it means that God would do whatever it takes, even go to hell and back, in order to keep them as his own.

How Big are those “Little” Doctrines? – Part II – Fellowship

"Why can't Aunt _______ sing at my wedding if she's not a member of our church body?"

“Fellowship” (koinonia transliterated from the Greek language) is a beautiful word in Scripture.  It means that people have something in common.  In the Bible, fellowship means that people have the most important thing – Jesus – in common.  In the same way that every cell of a human body shares the same DNA, every cell of  the body of Christ (the Church) holds Christ in common.  The Triune God, who is a relationship unto himself, created his body with the intention that all of its members enjoy existing together in fluid harmony since they have so much in common.  Christian fellowship is love and sharing and togetherness to be enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the majority of the times I’ve heard the word “fellowship” in my life, it’s been in the context of doctrinal divisions with other church bodies.  Our WELS seminary website alone has over 100 essays on the topic, most of which pertain to breaks in fellowship.  Now, to be fair, part of the reason that our church body (and Lutheranism in America in general) has a fairly splintered recent history is due to doctrinal differences.  The fact that our church body would be a strong advocate for the defense of sound doctrine and write copious amounts of information on breaks in fellowship then seems about as natural as a skin cancer survivor’s desire to be an advocate to raise awareness to the damages of overexposure to the sun.  After all, to a large degree, Confessional Lutheranism is THE faith group that ushered in the denominational explosion that we see today (21,000+ Christian denominations worldwide according David Barrett’s book Denominationalism written 30 years ago).  Since Luther and others broke from Roman Catholicism at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, churches have been regularly breaking off from bigger church bodies over doctrinal disagreements.  However, as breaks in doctrinal fellowship occurred, the beauty of that word “fellowship” also seemed to disappear.

Enter the 2nd half of the 20th century.  Although some successes of the first half of the 20th century led to the birth of the United States as the great global power, there was so much bloodshed, so much sadness in that time, that a longing for togetherness and relationship grew.  As the postmodern spirit developed, many good changes arrived – improvements to civil rights for all was a wonderful development.  But an element of the postmodern spirit that was potentially destructive to the concept of doctrinal fellowship also began to appear – tolerance.  It pervaded American Christianity.  And so was born the modern ecumenical movement – a movement that said, “If we have Jesus in common, does it really matter that much if we have all of Jesus’ teachings in common?”

So…..today we’re not going to go through a comprehensive study of fellowship.  Doctrinal Fellowship is, by definition, the single most difficult doctrine to understand because it requires an understanding of all of the other doctrines of Scripture as well.  What we will try to do today is explain doctrinal fellowship by using one of perhaps the most frequent modern occasions for confusion and offense – participation in a wedding.

The question of “Why can’t Aunt _______ sing at my wedding if she’s not a member of our church body?” (or some form of it) comes up for almost every wedding done nowadays at a WELS church.  Again, it’s no surprise that this question comes up so frequently – of course you would want someone who you care about to play a role in one of your most memorable days.  That’s only natural.  And with thousands of Christian denominations in America, what are the realistic odds that every person will marry someone who has the exact same denominational background?  Obviously very slim.  Knowing that the question of marriages involving families of different denominational backgrounds will only continue to come up more and more, the doctrine of fellowship is worth understanding and knowing how to put into as simple of terms as possible.

With this specific question – “Why can’t so-and-so sing at my wedding?” – I think one of the difficulties many run into is in understanding what a wedding really is.  Culture today suggests that a wedding is a grandiose occasion that you might even hire a planner for and everything has to be just right.  At times, it becomes little more than a very formal family get together.  So the first thing that couples would need to be reminded of when planning a wedding is that, first and foremost, this is a worship service.  If weddings are not worship services, why on earth would we traditionally hold them in a church buildings?  Make sense?

With that in mind, all of the normal things that would apply to a typical Sunday morning worship service still apply.  For instance, would a Christian church ever ask a Jewish Rabbi to come lead worship on a Sunday morning?  Of course not.  Why?  Because that worship leader would not share a unity in faith with those in the body of believers gathered there.  Why would I want someone who doesn’t believe what I believe (from Scripture) to give me spiritual exhortation in worship.  Not only does that not make sense but there’s plenty of New Testament admonitions that warn against it (we’ll get there in a minute).

Now, someone might argue that a “Jew and a Christian” is different from a “Christian and another Christian”.  That’s absolutely true.  Spiritual unity exists between two true Christians, despite denominational differences.  Salvation is held in common.  Unfortunately, I think this truth has perhaps not always been clearly stated when ministers attempt to defend the biblical teaching of doctrinal fellowship.  Again, putting the best construction on it, I believe it has something to do with some natural sensitivities pertaining to the history of this church body and doctrinal splits, but that’s still no excuse.  Thanks be to God that our church body is not the only one containing people who recognize Jesus as their Savior from sins and therefore possess saving faith.  If we don’t express joy in speaking about the Christian saints that exist in various Christian church bodies around the world, then perhaps we’ve made “doctrine” into a god, and we probably are no better than the stubborn and close-minded people that we are sometimes characterized as by those who do not understand doctrinal fellowship.

All that said, what many fail to recognize is that God doesn’t put a limitation in the New Testament by saying some doctrines are important/inspired and others are not.  In fact, he DOES say that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16).  Consequently, I simply don’t have the right to say that some doctrines just don’t matter.  And if one believer, for instance, confidently proclaims that baptism is something in which primarily God washes away our sins and another believer confidently proclaims that baptism is something that we primarily do to show commitment to God – those are different.  Both parties can’t be right.  There is not complete unity there.  Now, both can still be believers.  After all, anyone who knows Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sins is a child of God and in the end will be united in heaven.  But, if there’s a sure difference of doctrine, the Bible is clear that a separation from fellowship is necessary.

After laying out 16 verses of expressing his joy in the fellowship (used in a positive sense) that he has with the Roman Christians, the Apostle Paul also says to them, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17) This is a theme that runs through the entire New Testament, since from the beginning of the Christian Church, Satan was working to tear it apart with false teaching.  (note also: 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 4:3-4; Titus 3:10).

Now the argument is often made that the main false teachings that the Apostle Paul warns against in the New Testament are directly related to the chief doctrines that pertain to salvation.  In other words, when Paul is talking about not worshiping together with people who don’t confess the same doctrine, those people are denying things like salvation through Jesus’ work or the fact that Jesus truly was true God or true man – essential issues to distinctly Christian faith.  Therefore, when it comes to differences in opinion over the length of Creation, roles of men and women, an understanding of the Sacraments, beliefs about the End Times, and other “lesser” doctrines, maybe these issues aren’t big enough to warrant a separation of believers.

Well, it’s true that many (and the most destructive) of the false teachings that Paul warns about pertain directly to essential beliefs of the Christian faith such as salvation by grace and faith in Christ alone.  But not all of his warnings are about such things.  Here’s a list of other reasons Paul gives to break fellowship with a person or group:

  • 2 Timothy 2:18 – denial of the resurrection of the body
  • Revelation 2 & 3, Jude 1:3-4 – allowing Christ’s forgiveness to be used as a license to sin
  • 1 Timothy 4:3 – forbidding marriage and prohibiting certain foods
  • Titus 3:9 – quarrels about genealogies and the law

This list gives us enough information to understand that “doctrinal fellowship” or what we might call “worship fellowship” in the New Testament was seen as more than just knowing who Jesus was and believing what he did.  Saying “Well we have Jesus in common so doctrinal unity doesn’t matter all that much” doesn’t appear to be a defensible concept in the New Testament.

Let’s bring this back to our practical example of inviting someone outside of our church body to sing a solo in worship: Ultimately, the doctrine of fellowship indicates that we should worship with, and be united to, those of similar faith.  Therefore, as a pastor, for instance, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to unite myself in a worship service with another person who is recognized as a worship leader (like a soloist – who is also proclaiming God’s Word) in that service if I don’t share the same confession of faith with that person.

Weddings are obviously joyous occasions.  I certainly have no desire to squelch anyone’s enthusiasm as they plan for the big day.  But, I’m a confessional Lutheran pastor.  By conscience and biblical fellowship, I can only lead a confessional Lutheran worship service.  Some couples understand this.  Others don’t.

In all honesty, I’m not always convinced that our current format for public worship best communicates the doctrine of fellowship clearly.  In the early Christian church it appears that it was standard practice for non-confirmands (i.e. non-members) to be dismissed from the house church after the sermon.  At that point, acts of worship that were distinctly acts expressing unity of faith – joint prayer, joint praise, creeds, offering collections, and of course, Holy Communion – were celebrated as a body of believers that confessed doctrinal truth together.   This is a little different from today, when we invite anyone and everyone to public worship, encourage them to participate in prayer, praise, and even contribute offerings with us, and then say “NO” when it comes time for the Lord’s Supper and our explanation is “because you’re not in fellowship with us”.  Visitors become confused perhaps not because the doctrine is complex as much as because our practice appears a little confusing.

I don’t know as that we’re ready to change the full procedure of our normal Sunday worship experience at this time or even that we should.  What I would like to see, however, is continued education on how to communicate doctrinal fellowship in simple terms.  So, I’d like to offer a suggestion.  If someone asks, “Why can’t Aunt _______ sing at my wedding if she’s not a member of our church body?”, maybe start with this…

I would begin by assuring the person asking the question that I believe that EVERYONE who confesses Jesus as their Savior from sins will be in heaven.  If Aunt __________ confesses that too, I’m thrilled that she will be my sister in heaven.  You MUST let the questioner know the that reasoning of Aunt ___________ not singing has nothing to do with her personal worth or your judgment on her character.  After that, I’d lead them through these brief steps:

1) We believe that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, and therefore we don’t have the right to add or subtract from it, or dispense with some doctrines as “unimportant” or “irrelevant” to the discussion of fellowship. (Revelation 22:18-19)

2) The Bible encourages us to unite in worship with those who practice the same teaching as us (rejoice in fellowship) and stay away from worship with those who practice what we believe to be false teaching (break in fellowship).  (Romans 16:17)

3) If two worshipers (or worship leaders) do not have a unity in what they believe, how can they unite in worship if they truly respect God’s warnings concerning point #2? (logical conclusion)

Personally, I cannot wait until heaven and not just because we’ll all understand the doctrine of fellowship and I won’t struggle to make long bullet-point lists of explanation :).  I can’t wait because it’ll be my first experience of perfect fellowship.  I’m thankful for the many wonderful relationships God has blessed me with in this life – friends, family, spouse.  But none of them is perfect.  In heaven I will know perfect relationship.  I will be in perfect relationship.  I will be in true fellowship.

For further reading on the topic, I’d recommend Dr. John Brug’s essay “The Biblical Doctrine of the Church”, which can be found @ http://www.wlsessays.net/node/286

How Big are those “Little” Doctrines? – Part I – Creation vs. Evolution

How big of a deal is it to believe in a natural, 24-hour-day, 6 day creation?

Over the course of the next month or so I’d like to address some of the frequently asked about “lesser” doctrines of orthodox Christianity – where they fit into the scope of Christian doctrine and how important they really should be to us.  The series is called How Big are those “Little” Doctrines?

The first doctrine we’ll address is that old Creation/Evolution debate.  Someone recently wrote me and mentioned that they have an ELCA friend at work whose general comments indicate that he has no confidence in the Creation account of the Bible.  This lack of certainty from professed Christians concerning one of the most famous accounts of Scripture is really no surprise.  Modernist skepticism of miraculous accounts of the Bible have been commonplace for over 100 years.  What’s interesting is that the most common stance of all people, Christian, other-religious, or spiritual skeptic alike is one of uncertainty regarding the origins of the world.  In other words, people think that lack of evidence leads to an inability to state anything authoritatively regarding the world’s origin.  According to George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, about 1/3 of all who would label themselves spiritual Skeptics (agnostics & atheists) believe (very inconsistently I might add) that God’s existence is very possible.  And their reasoning……“the existence of apparent patterns in nature and the universe that could not be explained apart from the involvement of a superior being” (The Seven Faith Tribes, pg. 107).

So…….the conclusion that most come to is that there is simply not enough convincing evidence, one way or the other, to prove or disprove either Creation or Evolution.  And if you can’t repeatedly prove something through scientific experiment, then what you’re talking about, religion or no religion, is an issue of FAITH. (SIDE NOTE: no, there have been no legitimate experiments proving evolution, regardless of what your textbooks have told you – please research the flaws in the Miller-Urey experiment if you doubt this).

We simply cannot cover all of the scientific arguments either for or against Creation or Evolution in a couple thousand words today.  If you’re looking for good sources on the topics, check out Lee Strobel’s “Case for the Creator”, Jonathan Well’s “Icons of Evolution”, or Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box”.  For our purposes today, what we want to understand is what the Bible allows for and what the ramifications of going outside that mean.

Many good philosophical arguments have been proposed for God and therefore against the Theory of Evolution, since the theory was first proposed.  One such argument is the “cosmological argument”.  Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle bought into this argument, as did Thomas Aquinas.  What the argument basically means is that everything that has a beginning has a cause.  Go ahead, think of something that had a starting point.  You will always be able to come up with some set of circumstances or forces that brought this starting point into being.  When I look at a painting, I don’t assume those colored dyes randomly assembled themselves on a canvas to create a representation of something I already know, I assume there was a painter.  When I look at a building, I don’t assume that those bricks randomly assembled themselves into a multiple-story structure, I assume there was a builder.  And when I see the complicated systems of nature I don’t assume that something as complex as creation/nature merely happened, I naturally assume there was a Creator.  And if the universe had a starting point (which even the Big Bang Theory suggests), something had to give it life and bring it into being.  Proponents of this theory suggest that “Uncaused Cause” is none other than God himself.  God, you see, doesn’t need to have a cause because he is eternal and therefore has no beginning.  Get it?

Another famous argument for the existence of God is the ontological argument made popular by men like Anselm of Canterbury and Descartes.  This argument states that the mere fact that I can conjure up notions of God and of good & evil would suggest I’m not merely another animal, but that there is indeed a God out there who created humans as unique creatures.  Otherwise, where do such concepts as moral right or wrong come from?  Fascinatingly, the Apostle Paul says almost the exact same thing in Romans 2:14-15 – the reason that people universally understand that it’s not proper to kill, steal, or cheat is because God Almighty has tattooed it on the heart of every human.

More specifically though, today we’re talking about the Creation account as taught in Genesis 1-2 and what impact is made if we try to bend the meaning of such an account.

“Day-Age Creationism” and “The Gap Theory” are both attempts to bend the biblical account of Creation.  They are forms of what is called “Old Earth Creationism”.  In case you’re wondering, we, as members of a recognized conservative church body, are called “Young Earth Creationists”, suggesting that the world is somewhere between roughly 5,000 to 10,000 years old.  Where do we get such an idea?  Go figure, the Bible.

Day-Age Creationism proposes that the days of Creation spoken of in Genesis 1 were really long periods of time.  They suggest that, for instance, when the Bible says that God created dry land and vegetation on Day 3 (Genesis 1:11-13), this “day” was a period of several million (or so) years.  It would be kind of like saying that so-and-so lived in the “Day of King David”.  Obviously King David didn’t live for only a 24-hour-day, so here, “day” is being used to reference a longer period of time.  Truth-be-told, the Bible does use the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) this way – to refer to a period of time.  So, does that mean this theory is plausible?  It might be, except for the fact that God, in seeming anticipation of this argument, programmed into the Genesis 1 account proof that these “days” were not extended periods of time.  6 times in Genesis 1 (1:5; 1:8; 1:13; 1:19; 1:23; and 1:31) the Bible records the very redundant phrase: “And there was evening, and there was morning—the _________day.” 24-hour-days have mornings and evenings.  Periods of time in history, however, do not.  Therefore, the text of Genesis does NOT allow for the Day-Age Creationism theory.

The Gap Theory (which has nothing to do with being a trendy middle-aged dresser btw)  proposes that the days of creation were indeed 24-hour-days.  However, it suggests that there was a long pause between the first and second days of creation.  This theory came into play in the late 1700s/early 1800s as the result of a fairly newly recognized science called geology. Information written at this time concerning the Gap Theory was massively influential on a young Charles Darwin (1808-1882).  And the basic premise of the argument was that the earth simply “looks” older than 10,000 years.  Now I’m no geologist, but, truth-be-told, most recognized experts in the field suggest that the earth indeed looks significantly older than 10,000 years.  So, does that make this theory plausible?  It might be, except for 2 significant factors.  1) No where in Scripture does it even begin to suggest there are multiple periods of creation by God.  Gap Theorists jump through many hoops when they scramble for such passages.  2) Where in the Bible does it tell us exactly how old the earth looked when God created it?  The Genesis 1 account indicates that God didn’t just create seeds, he created seed bearing plants.  God didn’t just create fish, bird, and land animal eggs and embryos, he created full-grown creatures.  God didn’t create a human baby, he created a full-grown man.  So, if a respected geologist pushes his glasses up off the tip of his nose and wants to tell me, “You know, the Bible can’t be accurate, because the world looks 14.3 billion years old,” I would reply back, “Fine.  So what if the earth looks 4.3 billion years old?  That does not mean it IS that old.  God created the planet with an appearance of age.” Since no one (not even a world-class geologist) could begin to estimate the effects that a global flood (Genesis 6-9) would have on the earth nor can anyone estimate how old the earth looked when God first created it, it simply does not matter how old scientists say the earth looks today.

So……….what do you think?  Is the defense of the Genesis 1 Creation account a big doctrine or a little doctrine?  But before you answer, let me share with you a piece of information given to me by one of the presenters at the Creation Museum in Kentucky several summers ago.

When asked what the church could have done differently to prevent the global embrace of Darwinian theology, the presenter, in essence, said the church could have been 1) better scientists and 2) better theologians.  You see, fresh off of backtracking on their stance regarding the whole debacle of Copernicus, Galileo, and the heliocentric theory (you know, the correct assessment that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system), the Roman Catholic Church became much more open to allowing for scientific wiggle-room in Scripture, hoping to never again make such an embarrassing mistake.  In 1835, all materials referencing a heliocentric theory were dropped from the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books.   In 1859, Charles Darwin, taking advantage of the public’s assumption that the church had no clue what it was talking about in matters of science as well as the Roman Catholic Church’s hesitancy to again look so foolish, published On the Origin of Species, which would be the most compelling and widely embraced anti-god document in the modern world.

The Roman Catholic Church had misinterpreted Scripture’s references to the sun and the earth.  They were foolish in their understanding of God’s created world.  They were foolish in their interpretation of God’s inspired Scripture.  The end result was an open door for atheism to walk through.  Now I’m not suggesting that I could have done better or couldn’t have made similar mistakes.  What I am suggesting is that the Christian Church now has a long way to go in regaining credibility in claims of science.  Several fantastic institutions like the Answers in Genesis group (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) are helping.  In the meantime though, an important lesson has been learned – if you give the devil a doctrinal inch when it comes to biblical inerrancy, he’ll do what he can to take a mile of souls.

Conclusion: A natural 6 day, 24-hour-day creation is indeed an important doctrine.  The Genesis account is clear on it.  Just as important, Jesus adhered to it.  Once, when Jesus was asked about the topic of divorce, he quoted Genesis regarding the origin of marriage.  He said, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:6) In the old-Earth time frame, mankind comes right near the end of creation (the last couple of million years in a 14-billion-year age of the universe).  In the new-Earth time frame, mankind was created on the 6th day of a several thousand year-old Earth, i.e. “at the beginning”.  One of the prerequisites of being a Christian is simply to take Jesus at his Word.

2010 in review

Thanks again to all for your reading, support, & interest.  WordPress.com has deemed this blog “very healthy” – whatever that means 🙂  Please continue to share and send in your thoughts for topics.  God Bless!

If you’re interested, here’s what they said……

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2010. That’s about 29 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 51 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 52 posts.

The busiest day of the year was May 27th with 211 views. The most popular post that day was Else-Interest.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, resurrection-wels.org, mail.live.com, exposingtheelca.com, and mail.yahoo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for obama change, scrooge mcduck money swim, change obama, blockbuster video, and homosexuality.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Else-Interest May 2010
22 comments

2

Embracing Change April 2010
3 comments

3

5 Great Reasons to Live Together Before Marriage & 1 Better One Not To May 2010
6 comments

4

Lutherans & Homosexuality (Part 4 of 5) July 2010

5

Lutherans & Homosexuality June 2010
5 comments